Taking up with me

June 22, 2010

In reflecting on the issue of speaking for others, I came across a pair of conflicting words that exist in me and in those I know. The words being “assumption” and “insight”, the latter of which I pride myself to have and the other that which I feel attacks me when I am not daring to make myself as loud and as visible as can be. What I am meaning to say then is when people describe me without my knowing, without my presence and without my seeing a need to do so is that I look at their descriptions of me and cry out that these are assumptions. Baseless, naive assumptions.

The conflict between the two words is that what I do when I claim insight for myself and what others do that I call assumptions are both acts of explanation of the other. The “other” here being in line with Derek Attridge’s idea of “the other”. The “other” that comes into our static lives and allows the dynamic to happen, but only if we let it. So, your friend can have insight into you as a person, but as well a culture, idea or machine. The same holds so for an assumption, though the word assume can have meanings beyond this. So, then, how do others and I separate our assumptions from insight? Perhaps I am an assumptious ass after all. Both words involve me speaking for others and that act often can be one of the sleightest forms of language as violence.

Of the two words, assumption holds the most interest in its meaning and origin. I, of course, at this point assume this, but I will try to explain why now. Insight speaks for itself, it is sight in, it is sight inwards. Insight looks into its subject. (If you hit up the dictionary, you will find definitions in close proximity to this idea.) Assumption, on the other hand, comes from the same root as consume: sumere, to take up. You can also assume power and as such have an assumption of power. An assumption therefor takes, but what and how does it take? Does it always take up, as in taking up a cause? And then is this the cause of its subject or the cause of the sender of the assumption? Does it take up the power of a subject? Or does assumption take from its subject?

We should narrow down these possible meanings by concentrating on the word as an act of explaining. An assumption of power seeks not to explain power. An assumption of the other does. This is why the distinction is being made, the concern here is the motive for explaining and how that motive affects the explanation.

What I find, when I remember my acts of assumption(which of course there are) and times that I have learned of the assumptions of others about me, of about others, is that the explanation is in a way dismissive. The assumption tends to explain away its subject. It defines it then departs from it.

Let us get fictious here. Say Snoop Dog and I go to the projects, and I do not particularly want to be in the projects. And let us say that Snoop Dog remembers when he was not a rich hollywood figure. The two of us have a question on our minds, if Snoop Dog rose up out of these projects then why do the rest not? So, we debate this between ourselves. I speak first and I blame apathy. These people, I say, just do not care to leave. Snoop turns to me, looks at his sneaks and he shakes his head. No, he says, they care to leave, at least some. They just don’t get out. Well, I say, why the hell not? I was lucky, he reminds me. Or maybe I was special. You were special in talent, I nod. Hell nah Edward, I was special in luck.

Who has the insight and the assumption? I will guess that most think Snoop has the insight because he was IN the situation. He speaks from within and when speaking of the place.looks in towards his past. But, others from such situations look in and may say something different. They may agree with my accusation of apathy. “I cared to leave.” At this point, we give Snoop credit for some insight, but he is still assuming at some level for others. He has penetrated into the way he feels, but he hasn’t penetrated as far into the way the others feel.

Insight succeeds when it accounts for this relational bias. That though a person can provide insight by having been close or a part of the subject, it is still relating the self to the other and its explanations acknowledge this bias. Say Snoop says he was special in luck because he knows he cannot account for the feelings of others. He allows a space for the other to enter, or better yet, he allows more room to explore the other. My statement that they do not care, that I plaster apathy upon them all, allows me to move on from where I do not want to be. They do not care, so why should I? And the assumer moves on. The subject is explained away and not further pursued.

This is how the assumption takes, it takes from the subject the chance to be pursued and the chance to explain for itself, but it also takes up the cause of the assumer: to depart and not deal with the subject. I am outside the projects, assuming for the cause of not caring to know. Assuming because the assumer is pre-occupied with its self. We assume to explain away, never lingering upon the subject.

So, now insight, eh? Insight is special, but not special in luck like our fictious Snoop says. Insight is special in that not everyone is equal in ability or occurance to do insight. I say this, because I have met people who are poor assumers and whose supposed insight is laughable. Could this be because they assume too much? Because they have loose rigour in exploring the other? I can not tell, so I will not assume they just do not care to. I can only observe the differences in how people are able to understand others and their behaviors when they attempt to explain others. To say they are lazy assumes some ability on my part to look into their thoughts. I can only observe the lack of insight and say there is a difference in insight, but I can not say they lack the ability for insight until they admit to me such.

Assumption goes past a borderline; a liminal barrier where exists the space between what we can observe and acknowledge, and what we are guessing at. Insight is always pushing that border back further and further, looking to observe and understand. Assumption barely notices the borderline as it races to explain away the subject.

Right now, where that borderline lies with me in this website.. well I cannot be sure. If you would like to remind me that I am assuming, then I say in advance: I know, but lets see if it ends up as insight.


Why so serious.

June 22, 2010

“I read an article of yours, fire and brimstone, in yesterday’s Yediot. Rico showed it to me, he said, Read this, Dad, and don’t get worked up, just try to grasp where we are living and where all this lunacy is leading us. That’s what he said, more or less. I think he’s even further to the left than you, this repressive state and so on. I’m not so moral a person as either of you, but I don’t like the present situation much either. Mostly I say nothing, from a deep-seated fear that in responding to this or that wrong even I may come out with things that are not exactly right. Anger sends out secondaries. Naturally I have every respect for the brave child who shouts that the emperor is naked when the crowd is cheering Long live the emperor. But the situation today is that the crowd is yelling that the emperor is naked and maybe for that reason the child ought to find something new to shout, or else he should say what he has to say without shouting. As it is, there is so much noise, even here, the whole country is full of screaming, incantations, amulets, trumpets, fifes and drums. Or else the opposite, biting sarcasm: everyone denouncing everyone else. Personally I’m of the opinion that any criticism of public affairs ought to contain shall we say up to twenty percent sarcasm, twenty percent pain, and sixty percent clinical seriousness, or otherwise everyone is mocking and jeering at each other, everyone starts making false noises and everything is filled with malice.”
-Amos Oz’s “The Narrator drops in for a glass of tea and Albert says to him.” in The Same Sea

This quote, in the midst of a story of loneliness and loss and an inability to be understood, made me think of the current theatrics, brainwave and unspoken rules of conduct on the internet. There is this idea of the post-ironic, that we have gone so far past ironic that we now do ironic things with earnest. This is not my generation exactly, I suppose I’m the tail end of generation X, but to be honest, the tail end of Gen-X has been slowly dragging its thagomizer in the dust and found itself amongst the post-ironic; the little sibling who invokes its older sibling’s childhood and claims it for its own due to having a particularly sanitary and thus boring childhood experience.

I can confess to being around the internet since my early teens, a deeply faithful attendee to a nerdy club that suddenly became too popular to discern if my membership card still held the same benefits. I had questions that I did not express: Am I speaking to like-minded people? Are we still all outcasts confessing our loneliness? Or has the real world crept in and assumed our cloaks and secret handshakes? In this sudden closeness of idiocultures, of a people in the cloak of anonymity and the ability to play both audience and performer, sarcasm overtook sensitivity.

Of course, there were reasons for this. Sarcasm is a defensive behavior, irony a defensive behavior. We make fun of ourselves to create a middle ground towards people we suspect might be uneasy with our presence(at least I hear this thought repeated often enough). Since everyone was so close, everyone was on guard and people were free to say things unsaid in polite company. Thus, the reactions lead to reactions, the “Anger sends out secondaries.” In defense to this, more sarcasm and following this, more sarcasm. I myself treated chatrooms like a bar where I just spat off bullshit and expected everyone to know that no harm was meant. Pretty soon, it was faux-paus to be sincere. Sincerity had come under attack.

And the post-ironic, and I did not coin that silly term, came into being as a response to this attack on sincerity. People assumed the harlequin with earnest before they even had experienced the past that had created the need to put on the joker’s mask, fully assuming that passive-aggressive “there is no responsibility on my part if you get upset by what I say” mantra before they had even offended someone and had to deal with the responding anger. To sum it up: the internet created the social space for Glenn Beck to exist. For a man playing the clown so earnest to be believed and loved in spite of seeming to mock those who he represents as a vocal leader. And you can no longer point out that the Emperor has no clothes, because the response is, “of course he doesn’t, what is wrong with that?”

So where does that leave us? Are we all crying wolf? What happens when the need for sincerity is forgotten? Because I believe we do require sincerity. Sincerity is a part of love, even a parent’s love is so sincere it assumes that whatever you are that it can love you. And if it doesn’t have this practice, then we look down upon the parent for not daring to love. Sincerity is a part of trust, of faith, of lending money and borrowing the car. You have to assume that someone must mean a little bit of what they say. And even trapping the issue in the internet world, can you take part in this group behavior, where the audience and its peanut gallery has joined the stage, and the performer, the sage and speaker no longer has a place of authority by not having the ability to cry out in sincerity when the wolf does appear? Instead, we all stand around and stare at each other on stage, waiting for the first person to make a mistake so we can point and laugh. And now the mistake is to be serious, to speak up. So, “Why so serious?” of The Joker for this generation really has become “Don’t be serious.”

Albert, the separated voice of the above quote, has this idea of balance to speaking your mind, because he feels somewhere the balance has been lost. His character is an accountant, so he separates each element into an amount, twenty percent here, sixty percent there. Mostly sincere, mostly serious, but cautious. This can be applied to a Jewish sense of how a Jew must converse(Oz is Jewish and Albert’s character an Israeli discussing perhaps the Zionist’s state actions), but it feels to me to apply so well to the internet’s mindset and how this practice of smug peanut gallery behavior has leaked out into the physical world.

And I agree, it worries me. It’s a lot of false noise and malice, done so to remove all responsibility.


Editorial Notes:

The thagomizer:

“The thagomizer, or tail spikes, is an arrangement of four to ten spikes on the tails of particular dinosaurs, of which Stegosaurus stenops is the most familiar. The tail arrangement is believed to have been a defensive weapon against predators.[1]”

First, its the spiky tail of a stegosaurus, a defensive mechanism of a slow lumbering creature thats bone structure is best for pivoting around, but not great for speed or agility. Essentially, it can turn around and wack its tail defensively. Much like gen x turns around and wacks the younger generation for copying its youth.

“The term “thagomizer” was coined by Gary Larson in a 1982 Far Side comic strip, in which a group of cavemen in a faux-modern lecture hall are taught by their caveman professor that the spikes were named “after the late Thag Simmons”.”

Thus, the name thagomizer is a serious scientific name derived from a comic strip joke. The joke becoming serious. This link to my point is probably obvious.

The Joker/Batman issue:

The Batman of my generation is probably the Tim Burton batman, which features Jack Nicholson playing the Joker. Here we have a serious actor playing a clown, and the clown dies in the film. In the current Batman, the Joker is played by young and serious actor Heath Ledger. In this Batman, the Joker often escapes and it is instead the serious actor who dies in the real world. In retrospect, “Why so serious?” grimly starts to become “Don’t be serious.”


June 21, 2010

This blog is the product of various attempts to incite discussion with people that interests me and seeing many of those attempts become blowfish exploding into puffed cheeks and barbed expressions.